Analyzing the Strengths of Nine Female Prime Minister Candidates | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Analyzing the Strengths of Nine Female Prime Minister Candidates

Who will save the dying LDP?

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Sanae Takaichi (62), Minister of Economic Security Conservative hopeful without hiding her ambitions. Election strength 4, party popularity 2, policy 4, ambition 7+, charisma 3. Kobe University graduate, former TV caster with no factional ties. Despite the party’s financial scandal, she continues to develop a national vision, patiently waiting for the opportune moment.

“We hope that you will utilize the unique sensibility and empathy that comes with being a woman in your work.”

At the inauguration of the second reshuffled cabinet, where a record-tying five female ministers were appointed, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (66) sparked controversy with an unnecessary statement.

“Appointing five women was a significant step forward, but it ended up being criticized as discrimination. Truly, his appeal to the public is clumsy, really.” (Mid-level member of the Liberal Democratic Party)

At the end of last year, among the ministers of the reshuffled cabinet, four, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno (61) and former Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura (61), resigned due to a secret funds scandal. Since the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Kishida has failed to demonstrate a significant presence in responding to disasters, and his approval ratings continue to hit record lows. Not only the administration but even the Liberal Democratic Party is in a critical condition.

“Shigeru Ishiba, former Defense Minister (66), and Yoshimasa Hayashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary (62), are among the candidates for the next prime minister, but the party is weak in conveying the message ‘the Liberal Democratic Party has changed.’ It requires a determination to play the card of having Japan’s first female prime minister,” says a political reporter from a national newspaper.

Who among the 45 LDP female Diet members is closest to the LDP presidential seat? For this report, FRIDAY interviewed several Nagatacho officials and two female intellectuals. The following are their opinions on the leading candidates.

“At the moment, the most prominent figure is Yoko Kamikawa, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from the Kishida faction (70). In 2018, during her tenure as Minister of Justice, she ordered the execution of 13 former members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. She is a prudent and talented type, seamlessly handling tasks such as the foreign ministerial talks with Ukraine on January 7 and the visit to President Zelensky (45). It’s also a plus that she still maintains a good relationship with former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (75), who holds influence within the party. If Prime Minister Kishida entrusts Kawai, a member of his faction, even after his resignation, she can continue to wield influence in national politics as a kingmaker. There is a growing trend to consider supporting Kawai if it seems unlikely for Kishida to win the party leadership election scheduled for this fall,” said political journalist Akiko Anzumi.

Sanae Takaichi, 62, Minister of State for Economic and Security Affairs, who won the second highest number of parliamentary votes after Prime Minister Kishida in the last presidential election, appears to be in a poor position at the moment. Political scientist Yukiko Amakawa explains.

“While she has strong popularity among conservatives and a robust ambition, her greatest support, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has passed away, and another influential figure, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (86), has also stepped back from the frontline. The study group called ‘Japan’s Power Research Society,’ held in November last year, only attracted 13 attendees. If Takagi faction members from the Seiwa-kai (Abe faction) rally behind Takaichi, she might gather the 20 endorsers required for a candidacy in the leadership election. However, Takaichi had a past falling out when, in 2011, she left the Seiwa-kai after expressing her desire to quit due to the tough 5 million yen quota for pari mutuel tickets set by the faction’s leader at the time, Nobutaka Machimura. This move angered Machimura. In the previous leadership election, she did not hold a celebration for the lawmakers who supported her, opting to express gratitude through a letter only. Politics is a world of obligations and personal relationships, so being too detached like her could alienate people.”


Yuko Obuchi (50), the Chair of the Election Strategy Committee, is making a bid for the party leadership, fully leveraging the concept of hereditary succession. In 2014, during an investigation into suspected violations of the Political Funds Control Law, her multiple hard disks, found with holes, earned her the dishonorable nickname “Drill Yuko.” However, her late father, former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, had a strong support base, and she has shown unparalleled strength in elections. Despite public opinions, her reputation in Nagatacho is not unfavorable.

“She doesn’t exhibit the typical arrogance often associated with second-generation politicians; instead, she has the image of a well-bred young lady. The fact that she assumed the position of election strategy committee chair is largely due to the veteran lawmakers, including the late Mikio Aoki, former Chief Cabinet Secretary, who had connections with Keizo Obuchi, saying, ‘Let’s make Miss Obuchi the prime minister.’

However, if she is genuinely aiming for the position of prime minister, she must inherit the Heisei Ken (Motegi faction) that she belongs to from Toshimitsu Mogi, the Secretary-General (68). For this, she needs to shed her old self and engage in power struggles, possibly forming alliances with figures like former Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato (68). It’s challenging with a mentality that breaks down in tears when questioned about the drill incident. She needs to develop mental toughness.” (as mentioned by Akiko Anzumi)

Yoko Kamikawa (70), Minister of Foreign Affairs, is the legitimate successor in the Kishida faction. Strength in elections: 5, Respect within the party: 4, Policy: 5, Ambition: 4, Elegance: 2. A graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, she belongs to the Kishida faction. Known for her international outlook, she appears adept at handling the numerous diplomatic challenges.
Yuko Obuchi (50), Chair of the LDP Election Strategy Committee, requires toughness. Strength in elections: 5, Respect within the party: 3, Policy: 4, Ambition: 3, Elegance: 4. A graduate of Seijo University, she belongs to the Motegi faction. With a loyalty to her father, she aims to increase her influence within the party before veteran lawmakers with ties to her father retire.

 Finally back in national politics!

Ayuko Kato, 44, another hereditary minister in charge of women’s activities, is allowing Obuchi to take the lead.

“She’s more like an ordinary girl compared to Ms. Obuchi. She doesn’t have any notable achievements, and her scandals, such as bullying her secretary, are relatively minor. Her late father, Koichi Kato, had a history of leading the movement to overthrow the second Mori Cabinet, so she doesn’t have as many supporters within the party.” (An aide to a Liberal Democratic Party delegate)

Let us turn our attention to the House of Councillors. One of the candidates who is expected to switch to the House of Representatives and put her name forward for president in the future is Junko Mihara, 59, a member of the House of Councillors.

“She is often viewed with a bias as a former entertainer, but she has achieved results by involving others in realizing the resumption of the recommendation for cervical cancer vaccine. Under the influence of former Prime Minister Kan, she has shown results. She is expected to grow into a diligent legislator like Chikage Ogi. On the other hand, Eriko Imai (40) hasn’t shown significant achievements; she’s just flashy. The House of Councillors is not a place for struggling entertainers to make a fresh start. She still needs to study more.” (As mentioned by Ms. Amiko)

Kamikawa, Takaichi, and Obuchi. Are these three the leading candidates to become the first female prime minister? But then an unexpected dark horse emerged. It is Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (71).

“This summer, there is a Tokyo gubernatorial election looming, but even if Koike wins a third term, there won’t be a ceremony like the second term Olympics, making it difficult to showcase her influence. If moves to remove Kishida start, there is a possibility that Toshihiro Nikai, the influential 84-year-old former secretary-general and a key figure in the Shishokai faction, may be recommended by the faction’s lawmakers. Nikai publicly declared support for Koike in the second term gubernatorial election, transcending party lines, and the two share a deep relationship. With Koike’s strong ability to read political situations and her track record in elections, it would not be surprising if she ends up snatching the position of party leader.” (As quoted from the previous source, with some additional context.)

The first female prime minister may be born before the United States.

Yuriko Koike (71) Tokyo Governor, Trump Card of the Nikai Faction!? Election Strength 5 Party Esteem 1.5 Policy 3 Ambition 8 Super Elegance 3 Cairo University Graduate. During her time in the LDP, she held important positions such as Defense Minister. Can she shine again in the LDP, which is strict with those who have left the party once?
Ayuko Kato (44) Minister for Women’s Empowerment. The challenge is to break away from the lady image. Election Strength 4 Party Esteem 2 Policy 2 Ambition 3 Elegance 4 Columbia University Graduate. During the major earthquake on the Noto Peninsula, she proposed the operation of shelters from a woman’s perspective.
Junko Mihara (59) Member of the House of Councillors, Chairman of the Environment Committee. A star among talent-turned-politicians. Election Strength 5 Party Esteem 4 Policy 4 Ambition 3 Elegance 4. Will she demonstrate her capabilities gained through serving as Vice Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, and other roles despite not completing high school at Meiji University affiliated Nakano High School?
Eriko Imai (40) Deputy Chief of the Youth Bureau in the Liberal Democratic Party. Though she possesses charm. Election Strength 4 Party Esteem 1 Policy 0.5 Ambition 2 Elegance 6. Can she dispel the negative reputation stemming from the tourism suspicion surrounding last year’s “France training”?
Seiko Noda (63) Former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Where has the former momentum gone? Election Strength 5 Party Esteem 3 Policy 2 Ambition 5 Elegance 3. Once considered the leading candidate for the first female prime minister, she is now overshadowed by figures like Kamikawa.
Tomomi Inada (64) Former Minister of Defense. Position within the party is questionable. Election Strength 5 Party Esteem 2 Policy 3 Ambition 5 Elegance 3. Having lost her biggest supporter, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Inada’s chances for the position of the first female prime minister have diminished.

From the January 26, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO. Takeshi Kinugawa Afro (Yuriko Koike)

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